'British' Wales star Sam Warburton sparks political row

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Media captionSam Warburton said he had no strong feelings towards England

A political spat has broken out after a Plaid Cymru MP questioned how Sam Warburton could captain the Wales rugby team if he considered himself British.

In response to comments from English players saying they were hated by their Welsh rivals, Warburton said he had no hatred of the English.

He added that when asked about his nationality during the 2013 Lions tour he would tell people he was British.

Labour accused MP Jonathan Edwards of being "mean-spirited".

The Plaid MP said on Twitter that it was hard to understand how Warburton could be captain of the Wales team if he did not consider himself Welsh.

Wales and England meet in a crucial Six Nations match at Twickenham on Sunday.

England wing Jack Nowell and scrum-half Danny Care spoke of the bitter rivalry between the two sides in an interview on Wednesday.

"We're playing against a team that hate you and want to beat you up or beat you in the game," said Nowell.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Jonathan Edwards tweeted about the Wales and Lions captain's comments

Warburton, whose parents are both English, was asked about the players' comments and responded that he had no strong feelings of hatred towards the England team.

"Both my parents were born in England so I can't think that way at all," he said.

"I think people make a bigger thing out of it.

'All the lads went on the Lions tour [of Australia in 2013] and got on well with the English boys. If someone asked me my nationality [on that tour] I'd say British.

"The players love it [playing England] because the atmosphere's so good. They are massive games but hate is a very strong word."

But Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP Mr Edwards took exception to the British and Irish Lions captain's comments and tweeted about it on his @JonathanPlaid account.

He said: "I really find it difficult to understand how someone who does not consider themselves to be Welsh can be captain of the national rugby side."

His comments were seized on by Labour.

Owen Smith, the shadow Welsh secretary, said: "I commend Sam Warburton for simply telling the truth about the proud, shared identities he has, as a Welshman and a British citizen.

"And I equally condemn Plaid Cymru for daring to challenge Sam's role as captain of Wales in light of his feeling of belonging to both Wales and the wider UK.

"I feel exactly as Sam does, as do millions of Welshmen and women in Wales and across the world.

"And anyone who has seen Sam play, both as captain of Wales and as captain of the British Lions, can be in no doubt about the commitment and the passion with which he pulls on either shirt."

Welsh Secretary David Jones also defended Warburton's comments and told MPs it was important to be proud of being both Welsh and British.

Mr Edwards later released a statement striking a more conciliatory tone.

"Sam was doing his best to defuse the unfortunate jibes coming from the England team that Welsh players were motivated by hatred when playing the old enemy," he said.

"He was right to do so. There is no room for hatred when representing Wales in sport or in politics, or any other walk of life for that matter.

"It's about pride in our country, people, heritage and culture."

He also tweeted: "One thing we can all agree on is that Sam is a great player and we're all hoping for a Welsh win on Sunday."

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